Welcome to ShadowsandStone.com, the website of Irish photographer Ken Williams. Within the pages are a selection of photographs from a long term project to photograph and research the pre-celtic monuments of Ireland.
It is unclear whether Ireland was inhabited before the end of the last great ice age, to date no evidence has yet been found for habitation during the Paleolithic or earlier, though stone tools dating to around 200-250,000 years ago have been found in Britain. Present evidence suggests Ireland was not colonised by man until the warmer post-ice age climate allowed bands of hunter gatherers to set up small, temporary camps alongside rivers and lakes in the densely wooded landscape. Almost nothing remains above ground today that hints at this long period of settlement over perhaps four thousand years.
This, however, was to change dramatically. Alongside the arrival of new agricultural technology, plants and animals from the east, new social pressures and structures surely contributed to the rise of the great megalith building tradition. For the next few thousand years, from about 4,500BC until the later Bronze Age, land was gradually cleared of forests and massive stone tombs and temples were erected. Chambered tombs, particularly passage tombs, were decorated with spectacular abstract art carved on the stones hauled through newly cleared landscapes and along river routes. On open air boulders and outcrops, curious designs were carved on exposed faces of rock, often clustered around valleys, hillsides and river sources. The Irish rock art repertiore broadly reflects similar styles to those found in North West Iberia, Northern England and Scotland.
enigmatic settings of stones from small four and five stone circles, short and long stone rows to massive embanked circles such as at Lough Gur, generally ascribed to the Later Neolithic or Bronze Age, were built predominately to the north and south west of the country.
A wide band across the width of the country, from Sligo on the west coast to Meath on the east, describes passage tomb country with other more isolated sites dotted around the north and, rather less frequently, to the south. The settings of the passage in some of these tombs indicate an interest in the orientation of the tomb to the horizon and particular landscape features. Some, as in the case of Newgrange, seem to have focused the light of the rising or setting sun into their chambers in spectacular symbolic events at certain times during the year.
In the main, prehistoric studies have described these tombs and temples in terms of death, burial and solemn ritual but this is slowly changing. We can begin to read the monuments now in terms of their social meanings and functions against the background of emerging societies and civilizations and reflect on the structurally and artistically obscure symbolism and significance for the artists and their audiences.
It would be easy to think of Ireland as an isolated outpost at that time but as these pages show, Ireland was once the home of thriving and powerful cultures, great and small, that gave rise to some of the finest megalithic achievements in Europe.
I have included brief notes on some of the sites but the curious can find a wealth of information and insights into Ancient Ireland by exploring the links at the bottom of this page.